MIAMI — It’s Super Bowl week, so away we go …
• Another day, more buzz on the veteran quarterback market. The Chargers are one of three teams (along with the Titans and Bucs) that have decisions to make on whether or not to franchise their veteran quarterbacks. The tag is expected to come in at around $27 million for 2020, and the calls by those three teams promise to have a serious ripple effect. In L.A.’s case, it’s a heavy price for Philip Rivers—a quarterback who has a lot of equity built up with the team but was inconsistent last year to the point where benching him was discussed. And obviously, the price tag could be prohibitive for players like Ryan Tannehill and Jameis Winston. Or each team could use the tag to maintain continuity at the position, and buy a year to find another answer. Either way, we’ll know more before March 10.
• There have been a lot of Kobe Bryant stories, in the wake of his sudden death on Sunday. Here’s one from Chargers PR director Josh Rupprecht: It was summer 2017, and Rupprecht was new to the NFL, having come from the Lakers, and the team was new to Los Angeles, just breaking training camp. Rupprecht, who had always been hesitant to ask Bryant for things, figured that no one would be better to explain how to be successful in the L.A. market than the NBA star.
At a media training session soon after, Rupprecht played a five-minute league-produced video for the players. After the video, he told the players, “I could bore you with more, or I could just bring the guy up that’s lived it and done it in L.A. better than anyone else. Kobe, come on out.” The reaction in the room was unmistakable.
“It was fanboy central,” Rupprecht said Monday. “An entire pro football team lost it.” Bryant talked for 15 minutes, and then opened it up for questions. Silence in the room. A team official then said, “Come on, guys, he’s right here for you.” Rivers broke the ice with a question, and Bryant wound up answering questions for about a half-hour and took pictures with players after. Those who witnessed it say now that there aren’t many people capable of doing what Bryant did that day—having a group of 90 pro football players hanging on his every word.
• One more Kobe story: Bryant and ex-Browns coach Hue Jackson built a relationship back when the coach was an assistant at USC, and the two kept in touch in the two decades or so to follow. In 2018, Jackson leveraged his relationship and asked Bryant to come out and address that Cleveland team. The Browns and Bryant agreed that the ex-Lakers star would visit with the team before they played in Denver that December ... but Jackson was fired in October. Only Jackson knew the impact Bryant could have on the players, so Bryant agreed to go forward with it.
And Bryant did indeed bring a strong message to the guys in that room. One coach who was there said the speech focused on Bryant’s “competitive fire, and not really caring who liked it or who didn’t.”
• Speaking of the Browns, the team welcomed Eagles VP Andrew Berry back to the building as GM and Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski in as head coach—the expected result coming to fruition. I’ve made this point before, and it’s worth reiterating: the move to hire Berry leaves the club short on traditional scouting experience at the top of the flow chart. He could retain assistant GM Eliot Wolf and VP of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith, who are signed through the 2020 and ’21 drafts, respectively, and as of right now face uncertain futures with the team. Or he could bring in someone he has extensive background with, like ex-Colts GM Ryan Grigson (who actually worked in Cleveland for year with Berry, and helped mentor him in Indianapolis).
• That said, this does achieve Jimmy Haslam’s stated goal of aligning football operations. Berry and Paul DePodesta have a strong relationship. The latter recommended hiring Stefanski to the Browns in January 2018. And that was after an interview in which Berry and Stefanski hit it off. The two have stayed in touch since, mostly via text, and more than one person pointed out that they had a warm exchange when the Eagles played the Vikings in October. The bottom line is that, all along, if Haslam were to decide to stick with DePodesta, a Berry/Stefanski pairing was a strong, strong possibility. Vikings assistant GM George Paton’s decision to listen to the Browns threw a wrench in that for a few days. But they eventually got there.
• One leftover from MMQB on Monday—in praising GM Brett Veach, Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt praised the rebuild of Kansas City’s defense. That unit, a tire fire in 2018, started this year slow, but as Steve Spagnuolo’s system took root, things turned. The Chiefs held five consecutive opponents under 20 points from Week 11-16, and maintained that consistency in the playoffs.
“Brett had to go out and almost build a defense from scratch. We ended up with five or six new starters with Frank [Clark] being one of the centerpieces, Tyrann Mathieu being the other one,” Hunt said. “And there was some risk in it, we were letting go of two very productive players, two players who’ll have a chance to be Chiefs Hall of Famers, in Justin Houston and Eric Berry, and replacing them with two players that Brett thought would fit better from a scheme standpoint going forward. And he was 100% right on that.”
• The last 15 months have been weird and winding for Nick Bosa. The 49ers’ DE went from being injured and withdrawing from Ohio State, to receiving criticism over his social media post from high school, to being selected second overall in the 2019 draft.
But what I would say about him: his teammates, both at Ohio State and now with San Francisco, have all had his back through all of it, and that should say plenty about who he is. One example: in midseason, I reached out to Richard Sherman after a big Niners win, in which Bosa played a pivotal role, for my Monday morning column. Sherman agreed to do it, but told me the reason he wanted to is so he could give the rookie the credit he deserved. This much is for sure: Bosa earned his way to the Super Bowl in his native South Florida. He’ll play Sunday in the stadium that his dad helped open as a Dolphin player back in the late 1980s, a place that he went to for games as a kid and eventually played in as a prep star.
• A few weeks ago I mentioned that the Panthers were blocking RBs coach Jake Peetz from considering other jobs—Ron Rivera would’ve brought him with the rest of the Carolina offensive staff to Washington if that wasn’t the case. I’m told GM Marty Hurney valued Peetz, and Peetz was rewarded with a defacto promotion over the last few days, to quarterbacks coach.
• Chargers OT Russell Okung declared his candidacy for NFLPA president on Monday, and he’d be a sensible choice. So too would 49ers CB Richard Sherman. And for now, how pivotal that election winds up being is up in the air. If outgoing president Eric Winston can help push a new CBA across the goal line before leaving office in March, then it’ll be a run-of-the-mill vote. If a deal isn’t done, then the players will be voting in a new president who’ll be picking up where Winston left off, and have a new labor deal at the top of his agenda with a year left until expiration.
• We mentioned this morning the progress that the league and union have made recently towards that CBA—the league telling the players that 17 games won’t come until at least 2021 was a big one. But we left out something important here. For right now, the players have leverage. There’s no big motivation for them to get a deal done now. They can wait. The owners, on the other hand, have to worry about potentially having to negotiate with a new union president if something isn’t done in the next two months. And I’ve been told all along that a few powerful owners want to get the CBA done now, so they can more forward with the next set of broadcast deals, after which they can turn their focus to gambling. Believe it or not, some owners see a labor deal with the players as small potatoes compared to working on the other two.
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